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What Is Heartburn?

More than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month and about 25 million Americans have it daily.  Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux, otherwise known as "acid indigestion" or "GERD"-gastroesophageal reflux disease.  It usually begins as a burning pain that starts behind the sternum or breastbone and travels upward toward the neck.  Often there is also a sensation of food coming back into the mouth, accompanied by an acidic or bitter taste.  Heartburn usually occurs after meals, but it may also occur with stress or at night.  Heartburn is more common among the elderly as well as among pregnant women.

Heartburn results from acid reflux, a backup of the acidic contents of the stomach, into the esophagus.  Other symptoms of GERD include persistent sore throat, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma, chest pain, or feeling a lump in the throat.  What can you do to treat it?  First, try over-the-counter medications along with the following lifestyle changes: 

  • Don't lie down for 3 hrs after eating.
  • Avoid foods, drinks or medicines that aggravate heartburn, such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, coffee, sodas, citrus fruits, tomato products and alcohol.
  • Eat smaller portions at mealtimes.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing.
  • Maintain a normal body weight.
  • And, of course, stop smoking (whether or not you have heartburn!)

If over the counter medicines and lifestyle changes don't eliminate your heartburn, see your doctor.  There are now several prescription medicines that may help.

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Created: 4/11/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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